When Is the Right Time for Mobile Marketing Messages?

Mobile advertising is anticipated to account for 30.5% of global advertising expenditure and total $187 billion in 2020, according to Zenith. That’s more than twice the desktop advertising spend, and just slightly less than the $192 billion TV spend.

Still, marketers struggle mightily to take advantage of the huge opportunity that is mobile advertising.

Consumers are diverse in their interests and activities; and although the ability to message on the go is a huge opportunity for marketers, it can be an exercise in futility if mobile ads fail to cater to the right mindset.

Marketers must understand how receptive consumers are to certain types of messaging at various moments during the day.

Historically, advertisers have tried to understand receptivity as an exercise in hindsight: Run the ads, see how they perform. Today, the more initiated will use data to predict receptivity prior to delivering ads. But there’s also another way—ask consumers directly. That’s what we did at Aki Technologies with our recent Mobile Ad Receptivity survey.

We delivered a survey to 1,000 respondents online with an age-range breakout that mirrored the US population’s. Our goal was to understand whether consumers themselves recognize the fluctuation in ad receptivity that we measure in advertising campaigns and, if so, how the rate their own receptivity through those moments.

How Hooked Are We?

We began the survey by asking about mobile usage. It wasn’t surprising to observe that consumers are spending a lot of time on mobile: Almost half (44.8%) of those surveyed spend five hours or more on device.

What is important for marketers to note is that respondents reported that much of that time is spent multitasking and, further, not in sync with their peak mental and physical states. So, although there are many opportunities to engage consumers on mobile devices, attention is tough to capture.

Do Mobile Ads Stand a Chance?

It’s easy to look at mobile consumers’ behavior and conclude they are too distracted to engage with mobile ads. In fact, there is no shortage of competitors who hope you conclude just that. But the reality is that you’d be ignoring the many on-device campaigns that are delivering meaningful engagement, foot traffic, brand lift, and so on.

To help uncover the lever of influence here, we asked: “What factors most heavily influence your attention to ads?” Most respondents agreed that the two most important aspects of an ad’s efficacy are the consumer’s existing familiarity with the brand (54%), and the creative served to them (52%). Good timing and the inclusion of a coupon (both 41%) were the next two most important factors. When people are on the go, each of those get less effective, but both still hold as the top four in importance.

Finding Receptivity

“Receptivity” looms behind the more obvious factors that drive attention to mobile advertising. Unlike linear television or radio, the mobile experience wasn’t designed to carve out a space for marketing messages; instead, marketers need to earn it. And the reality, which can be particularly daunting to those who aren’t adapting to modern consumer behavior, is that there are times when, regardless of how relevant the creative is or how compelling a coupon may be, your audience simply doesn’t want your ad.

Fortunately, there are also times when audiences are receptive. We asked respondents to rate their receptivity during specific moments. Though there are many, many mobile moments in a day—150 to 200, according to Forrester Research—we addressed those that are most common across consumer behavior.

There were some clear patterns in the results.

High-Receptivity Moments

More than half of the survey respondents (59%) cited “at home watching TV” as the moment they are most receptive to ads. That finding makes a strong case for second-screen campaigns; it also demonstrates television’s role in priming viewers for advertising. Even in a cord-cutting, ad-skipping world, TV has a positive impact on receptivity to advertising.

At 51%, “in bed before going to sleep” ranked second overall and had the highest receptivity for video ads. Gen Z was considerably more likely to be receptive while in bed, especially compared with Boomers—a pattern that was mirrored by receptivity “while eating a meal.”

Those findings suggest a broader shift in what places device use, as well as brand messaging, is acceptable.

Other generational variations emerged that are worth noting. For instance, Millennials and Gen X reported higher receptivity to ads while shopping in a store and running errands. It’s another indicator of a shift in media consumption, and a prompt for brands to integrate relevant features, like store locators and point-of-sale coupons, into campaigns.

Living Up to Consumer Expectations

Today’s savvier, self-aware audiences have high expectations—they generally know that “Big Data” is part of the advertising equation, and they understand that signals like location and session length are available to inform the approach. So, when ads don’t line up, it’s as perplexing as it is frustrating: They ask themsleves, “shouldn’t brands have it right by now?”

Fortunately, there is a path forward that addresses the expectations of the consumer and the pressing need for advertising ROI.

The first and most important step is getting in tune with consumer habits—something that more companies are recognizing. You can see it in recent acquisitions, such as the acquisition of Epsilon by Publicis and the purchase of Dynamic Yield by McDonald’s.

Those companies, and surely more to come, recognize that it’s not enough to know who your customers are; you also need a window into behavior.

The second step is understanding, within those evolving habits, what consumer expectations are from advertising. There are a lot of nuances here. As the data shows, receptivity will vary from moment to moment and across generations. But once the code for receptivity is cracked, it will become dramatically easier for advertisers to give people what they want, when they need it.

And then it will be easy to understand the right time to message.

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